I would argue that the best summation of Christian ethics is found in the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:20–49. What I love about the sermon on the plain is just how radical it seems on the surface, it seems almost impossible; however, when you think about what it’s saying, and think about it deeply—it makes sense. Probably my favorite example of this is found in Luke 6:34–35 (NRSV):
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Continue reading “Jesus against Hillel on Usury”
Over the last few months I haven’t been posting that regularly, there’s a few reasons for that; one reason is that I’ve been working on a book. The book I’ve been working on is called All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians, which has just been published by Wipf and Stock.
The book is basically a historical reconstruction of the economic practices of the early Christians, as primarily described in Acts 2:42–47 and Acts 4:32–37. The basic idea is that I think the subject has often been approached using the wrong framework, many people approach these passages with the framework of twentieth-century political struggles; so the questions they ask are things like “was this socialism, or was this just charity?” or “Did they abolish private property?” or “Was this a commune?” I think these questions assume the wrong framework.
I approach the issue using a different framework, rather than questions of property or politics, I use the framework of different types of social-relationships as described by modern anthropology. Rather than asking questions of property or legal rights, I look at questions around things like obligations, moral norms, social assumptions, and economic practices. Approaching the question of the economic practices of the early Christians using this framework, I then go about examining all the evidence. This evidence ranges from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Greek Philosophy, to the writings of Josephus and Philo to the early Church fathers and early Christian documents to Roman literature.
The evidence, when examined carefully, and within the framework of categories of social relationships—we end up seeing that what was described in Acts 2:42–27 and Acts 4:32–47 was in fact, a long term, wide spread and significant shift in the economic realities of the Christian communities. These economic practices were done all over the Roman world at least up until the late second century (and probably beyond) by many Christian communities, and these practices distinguished the Christians from the surrounding Roman society and were seen by the surrounding Roman society as strange. It was not charity, or anything like that; but rather it was—in the anthropological sense of the word, meaning a situation where “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is the primary moral framework—communism.
If this is something that interests you, and I think it should, pick up the book.
An article recently came out some outlining common explanations of where religious thought comes from. I become weary when people attempt to talk about “religious thought” as if there were such a thing. The fact is that the distinction in the west between the secular and the religious is a recent one, more or less springing up with the enlightenment. In addition, it’s important to point out that there is no broad “religious thought” just as there is no broad “political thought.” In politics there is Liberal thought, Socialist thought, Conservative thought, in the past there was Monarchist thought and so on. In religion there is very little that can be said when comparing say, Roman Catholicism and Zen Buddhism, or Ancient Aztec human sacrifice cults and Jainism.
Continue reading “The nonsense of purely scientific accounts of Religion”